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A Guide for How to Make Sense of RtI Vocabulary (Response to Invervention)

Updated on June 28, 2011
RtI can help all learners
RtI can help all learners | Source

It can be difficult to make sense of RtI vocabulary. RtI, or Response to Intervention, became part of education law with the passage of IDEA 2004. RtI is a general education program mean to help close skill gaps in students and identify students who are in need of special education services.

Unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines for how to do RtI. However, because it’s a federal and state mandate, teachers are often told to “do” RtI, but are given no guidance. This often leads to confusion and frustration, with teachers not having the background or information they need. Teachers are left with a huge responsibility, but no place to start, unable to describe the difference between a tier two intervention and a universal screener. Below are definitions and descriptions to make sense of RtI vocabulary.

  1. RtI or Response to Intervention
    RtI is a familiar concept to many teachers, just with new packaging. The basic premise behind RtI is that when a student is not mastering concepts or skills, they need extra instruction, i.e. interventions, to help get them to where they need to be. Teachers have been doing this for years. The new component added, however, is tracking the data. With RtI, it is important for teachers to document where the student was before the interventions began (the baseline) and to document the results of assessments. The documentation allows teachers to determine to what extent the intervention has succeeded.

    RtI also allows for teachers to identify learning disabilities. This is a vast improvement upon the previous method which looked for discrepancies between a student’s IQ and his/her actual performance. This method was faulty for a variety of reasons, but the two main ones are: 1) it takes a while for the discrepancy to appear, so many students who needed special education services had to wait until third grade or later to “pass” the test, and 2) students who had low IQs and performed academically as such were completely left out of special education because there was no discrepancy, although they were in significant need of special services.

    Though RtI is generally thought of as an academic initiative, it can also be used to affect behavior and social skills.

  2. Tier One
    This is a complicated way of saying typical classroom teaching. It’s what teachers are already doing and have been doing for years. This should include some differentiation, which teachers are already doing, but not every lesson needs to be differentiated (you might go crazy trying to differentiate everything ). Generally, typical general education reaches 80 percent of students. If it is successfully teaching fewer students than that, RtI is not the solution, but rather the general education program should be reevaluated.

  3. Tier Two
    Tier two is designed to target the 20 percent of students whose needs aren’t met by general education/tier one. Tier two is specific, targeted intervention. The purpose of tier two is twofold: 1) close any skill gaps a student has, and 2) determine whether or not a student qualifies for special education services. Tier two generally is effective for half to three quarters of the students receiving interventions.

  4. Tier Three
    Tier three applies to the remaining 5-10 percent of students whose needs aren’t met in general education or with interventions and remediation. Tier three is special education services.

A brief introduction to the tiered RtI process

5. Universal Screener
Universal screeners are generally tests or other assessments that indicate a student’s mastery of a skill. Low student scores are used to determine students in need of intervention to close skill gaps. Universal screeners include basic reading and math tests elementary teachers commonly administer throughout the year to determine math and reading levels, like DIBELS. State standardized test scores can also be used. As students move into middle and high school, there is often enough data in a student file to demonstrate need of RtI without a specific test, but rather using a compilation of tests previously taken.

6. Differentiation or Differentiated Instruction
Differentiated instruction is using different strategies to effectively teach students. Teachers differentiate in many ways for many reasons. The most common way to differentiate instruction is to provide tiered or leveled assignments so that the difficulty level is matched to the capabilities of the students. Using a combination of individual, small group, and whole class work is also differentiating. Another example is basing assignments and instruction on multiple intelligences. These are just a few different types of differentiated instruction.

7. Multiple Intelligences
The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by Dr. Howard Gardner in the 1980s, suggests people have a variety of different intelligences, not simply the traditional word and number intelligences catered to in education and even on IQ tests. The intelligences Gardner proposed are:
1. Linguistic intelligence – “Word smarts”
2. Logical-mathematical intelligence – “Number and reasoning smarts”
3. Spatial intelligence – “Picture smart”
4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – “body smart”
5. Musical intelligence – “music smart”
6. Interpersonal intelligence – “people smart”
7. Intrapersonal intelligence – “self smart”
8. Naturalist intelligence – “nature smart”

By using the theory of multiple intelligences in the classroom, teachers can more effectively engage students in their learning, and students can better learn the material because it’s able to be processed in ways their brains work best.

8. Baseline
Baseline is the term used to refer to the level the student is at when the RtI process begins. Later results are then compared to the baseline to determine to what extent the student has made progress.

9. Interventions
An intervention is a strategy used by teachers, support staff, and/or parents to help a student gain or improve upon a specific weakness. Interventions take a wide variety of forms, depending on the targeted skill and the strengths and needs of the particular student. Interventions can range from reteaching certain material to providing students with checklists to teaching memorization strategies to providing positive role models. Interventions are meant to be “research based,” which sounds intimidating, but most teachers, perhaps without even realizing it, consistently use research based methods to teach, and research can be found to support just about anything. Go with what you think would work best, and you can probably find research to back it up.

10. IDEA 2004
IDEA 2004 is the most recent version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law designed to ensure that students with disabilities of all types receive an appropriate education. It was in IDEA 2004 that RtI became a federal mandate. As a result of being included a law regarding special education, many people mistakenly treated RtI as a special education-only initiative. Though it is certainly a way of determining which children qualify for special education, RtI is designed to be used to help all children not working to their ability, whether that is academic (including gifted underachievers), behavioral, or social.

IDEA 2004


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